Monday, July 16, 2012

Country mourns loss of "Queen" Kitty Wells

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Country legend Kitty Wells died on Monday due to complications from a stroke, CNN has confirmed. She was 92. According to a press statement, Wells, who was born Ellen Muriel Deason Wright in Nashville, Tennessee, "passed away peacefully with family by her side."

Wells is survived by her son, Bobby Wright; her daughter, Sue Wright Sturdivant; eight grandchildren; 12 great-grandchildren; five great-great-grandchildren; and some "devoted nieces and nephews," the statement says. Wells started her career in 1937 with her now-deceased husband Johnnie Wright, and the New York Times calls her an "unlikely and unassuming pioneer," a singer whose career paved the way for future female country stars.

The turning point was the song “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," a single she recorded in 1952 without expectations, the Times says. With that record, Wells became the first female singer to reach No. 1 on the country charts. It also set off consecutive success that earned her "near-universal acclamation as the Queen of Country Music," reports, noting that it was a "title bestowed on her years before the 1960s heyday of women singers in the field, including Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton and others."

Wells continued to hold onto her crown as country's leading female singer for the next 14 years, a statement says, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1976. "Kitty Wells will always be the greatest female country singer of all times. She was my hero. If I had never heard of Kitty Wells, I don’t think I would have been a singer myself," said Loretta Lynn in a statement Monday. "I wanted to sound just like her, but as far as I am concerned, no one will ever be as great as Kitty Wells.

 She truly is the Queen of Country Music." Added "American Idol" alum Kellie Pickler via Twitter, "My heart cries over the loss of Ms Kitty Wells. She is and always will be the true Queen of Country Music."

Charlie Daniels seconded that thought, tweeting, "A Queen died today. The true Queen of country music,the lady who set the standard for all who followed .

Rest in peace Kitty Wells." The Grand Ole Opry also paid their condolences, writing (along with a video of one of Wells' performances), "We will always remember the legendary Kitty Wells. Our thoughts are with her loved ones."

Monday, July 9, 2012

Ernest Borgnine, born Ermes Effron Borgnino (January 24, 1917 – July 8, 2012)

(CNN) -- Film and television actor Ernest Borgnine, who won an Academy Award for his portrayal of a lovelorn butcher in 1955's "Marty," has died at age 95, his manager said Sunday.

The thick-set, gap-toothed Borgnine built a reputation for playing heavies in early films like "From Here to Eternity" and "Bad Day at Black Rock." But he turned that reputation on its head as the shy, homely title character in "Marty," taking home the Oscar for best actor -- one of four awards the film claimed.

His manager, Lynda Bensky, said Borgnine died of kidney failure Sunday afternoon. His wife, Tova, and children were at his side at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, she said. "It's a very sad day," Bensky said. "The industry has lost someone great, the caliber of which we will never see again. A true icon. But more importantly, the world has lost a sage and loving man who taught us all how to 'grow young.' His infectious smile and chuckle made the world a happier place."

Born in Connecticut to Italian immigrants, Borgnine -- originally Ermes Effron Borgnino -- began taking theater classes after serving in the Navy during World War II. He had joined the service after graduating from high school during the Great Depression and had been discharged in 1941, but re-enlisted after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor launched the United States into World War II.

He made the move to films and then television in 1951, racking up more than 200 credits in projects ranging from the era of live television drama to the children's cartoon "SpongeBob SquarePants." He starred in the 1962-66 sitcom "McHale's Navy," was one of the original celebrities on the game show "The Hollywood Squares" and played William Holden's right-hand-man in Sam Peckinpah's revisionist Western "The Wild Bunch." He also was a regular on the 1980s television drama "Airwolf" and a frequent guest star on a variety of shows. In addition to his Oscar for "Marty," Borgnine was nominated for three Emmys -- the most recent in 2009, for a guest spot on the hospital drama "ER" -- and won a life achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild in 2010.

Tova Borgnine, whom the actor married in 1973, was his fifth wife. His previous marriages included a brief 1964 union with Broadway legend Ethel Merman that lasted barely a month before the couple separated.